Raising the bar on housing standards

Front cover of the report.Advocates in several countries have been lobbying for mandatory accessible housing standards for many years. At last Habinteg in the UK has succeeded in getting the topic on the government’s agenda

A forecast for accessible homes, is an important report covering all the key issues, ending with three key actions. The Habinteg report reveals a “huge postcode lottery in the planned supply of new accessible homes…”.  Therefore it is crucial to “set a national policy that will create a level playing field and more certainty for developers”. The report found that existing basic minimum standards as set out in Part M1 of the building code are insufficient. The planned development of accessible housing is set to fall short of previous official predictions. The report also has personal case studies to highlight the impact the lack of availability has on their lives. Mandatory standards within building regulations are needed because Part M1 is too basic. The shortage of housing with liveable access features, which are suitable for everyone, is now at a critical level.

Australia should watch this space while the Australian Building Codes Board considers the same issues regarding mandating accessibility in all new homes. The Regulatgory Impact Statement for accessible housing is due out for comment early next year. 

UD Policy Document

Front cover of the policy statement.Having a universal design policy statement to go beyond access compliance is a relatively new thing. And it is a lot of work to start it from scratch. Fortunately Hobsons Bay Council in Victoria has a good example to refer to. Their Universal Design Policy Statement for council buildings and the public realm is comprehensive and nicely written in 18 pages. It covers cost (or lack thereof), the regulatory framework, applying UD principles and advocacy with business and governments. The last part of the Background section sums up Council’s approach. 

“Council is committed to exceeding minimum standards to include Universal Design principles when building new buildings, undertaking significant upgrades to existing buildings, the public realm, and where possible during minor upgrades and maintenance works to existing buildings. In addition, Council will work with private developers and businesses to encourage the use of Universal Design principles as well as advocate to the Victorian and Australian Governments to include the principles of Universal Design into relevant regulatory frameworks.”

There is also a Universal Design Fact Sheet from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect which could be pinned up on all desks to remind staff to think about universal design principles in all they do.

 

ABCB moves to next phase

Timeline for the next steps to the Regulatory Impact Statement.The process for the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for Accessible Housing is underway. With more consultations due soon for the RIS, it is worth refreshing our memories on the issues. Using a lot less words, a Building Connection magazine article picks out the key points of the first report by the Australian Building Codes Board. The article by Jane Bringolf is on page 16 of the online flipbook titled, A Summary of the ABCB’s Report on Mainstream Accessible Housing. The infographic shows the timeline for the project. If minimum access (universal design) features are agreed, it will be included in the 2022 edition of the National Construction Code.

CUDA made a submission to the Australian Building Codes Board Options Paper.

Complete Streets: Health agencies play a role

Pedestrians are walking towards the camera. They are on a wide walkway. Some people are looking at their phones. They are dressed for warm weather. There are buildings on each side of the walkwayThe Complete Streets concept is about creating a safe place for all road users regardless of their age or ability. Transport and planning agencies usually have control over road and street plans, but public health agencies also have a role to play. Along with other stakeholders, health agencies can evaluate initiatives from a health, physical activity and inclusion point of view. A report from the US gives an overview of strategies and examples of how public health agencies, advocates and practitioners were involved in planning processes.

The report, published by University of Illinois, is titled, “Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned”, is 18 pages plus appendices. 

 

Brisbane commits to universal design

Night scene over Brisbane river with bright pink upper case lettering saying Brisbane.The Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Cr Adrian Schrinner made two commitments to universal design in new housing built in Brisbane. In his budget speech he said that Council will, “deliver an infrastructure charges rebate of 33 per cent over the next three years to those who are building universal housing for multiple dwellings and residential care facilities if they meet the industry “Gold” standard for Livable Housing Design Guidelines when the building is constructed and certification is demonstrated.” 

They will also look at introducing future City plans that will require Livable Housing Design Silver level as the new minimum standard for all new dwellings, “for a city where everyone feels they belong”. 

The video below shows how accessibility in Brisbane is enjoyed by many. It includes an Auslan interpretation as well as closed captions.

A text version of the video is also available.

Multigenerational housing on the rise

A child-like drawing of different house types.Home design needs to keep up with current lifestyles – homes should not design our lives. The basic design of a family home is still last century when our lives were very different. But the population is becoming more diverse. While the campaign for universal design in housing continues there is a related concept on the rise. As many as 41% of Americans are considering buying a home to accommodate an older relative or an adult child according to research quoted on the FastCo website. But are regular homes designed to cater for this? The article goes on to say that a bedroom is not enough for the relative, old or young, to feel independent. Where can they entertain friends, or seek private time outside the family? The answer is to have a living room as well as a bedroom. The title of the article is, The future of housing looks nothing like today’s. 

There is also reference to a book, Hive: the Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living, which is based on personal experience of four generations living together. This is a comprehensive article and includes references to co-housing and other housing models. 

Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

Book cover showing anthropometric diagrams of a wheelchair userBook reviews can reveal good information in their own right. One such case is the review of Aimi Hamraie’s book, Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. The book traces the history of universal design from the 1950s in the United States to current ideas. Hamraie discusses issues from both a design and a disability perspective. This is an academic text that would be of value to both design and disability studies. Other articles about Hamraie posted previously are:

UD: Social justice or just marketing? 

The evolution of UD and accessibility

Mapping Access: People, Place and Justice  

100-Year Life: People, Planning and Housing

Four women using wheelie walkers crossing the roadThe longevity revolution is here, but we haven’t prepared for it. The way cities are planned and homes are designed hasn’t really changed since mid 1900s. This lack of foresight is having a significant effect on people over 65 years who are not getting any younger. This is a common problem for most developed nations. The Design Council in UK tackled this topic in “The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design“. Their article contains some small scale but effective case studies, showing various ways to address the issues with inclusive thinking. It includes home modifications, ways to finance home and community upgrades, transportation, and the application of the WHO Guidelines for Age Friendly Communities. Educating designers and planners is of course paramount as well as involving citizens in the design and development processes. The article ends with a summary of recommendations. Their conclusions resonate with the principles of universal design:

“If we are going to be successful in creating homes and places which meets both fast rising demand, and the diverse and individual needs of older people, our thinking needs to be much broader. We need to consider how we help people afford better housing and plan their finances; how we develop long-term special plans and a workforce with the right skills; and how we use existing policy levers, such as expansion of personal budgets, to best effect. We need a whole-population, whole-place approach to planning for our future health, care, housing and support system at both the national and local levels.”   

The Design Council has a free online CPD course on inclusive environments designed to suit built environment professionals. It takes about an hour.

UD in Housing: Does it really cost more?

Facade of a large two storey home commonly called a McMansionDo homes really have to be larger to incorporate universal design features? Unlikely says Kay Saville-Smith, a housing researcher from New Zealand. In her keynote address at the UD Conference in 2014 she explained why. Her presentation discussed the “size fraud” and the mistaken idea that homes need to be larger and therefore more expensive. She also referred to the “blame game” where nothing changes because no-one takes the first step. Below is an excerpt from the full transcript of her presentation, Making Universal Design a Reality – Confronting Affordability.  

“Builders like to talk about cost per square metre so the larger the living space, the cheaper the perceived cost. Although the floor space need not expand to bring in UD features, it is believed that you do. So people say they won’t pay for that – or more to the point the builders say that”.

She goes on to say, “…there are still the two old barriers to renovating and building homes with universal design and indeed the streetscape, and those two things are twofold. One is what I’ve talked about in the past as the vicious cycle of blame that goes on in the building industry, which is no-one wants to change to do anything because the other person hasn’t asked them to do it. Investors don’t want universal design, so I the builder can’t build that, but if investors want it, sure I will build it. Investors will say I can’t build it because the builder won’t come in at the right cost, and both of them blame the architect, of course, because the architect is off site at that point. So that is one issue. The other issue is that we have the “innovation chasm” where we have solutions but getting them taken up and getting to a tipping point where it’s an expectation of what you get out of the housing market, is a big jump and typically you need about 30% or so of the market to be taking that kind of innovation challenge rather than taking the opportunity to be an early adopter. 30% is a big jump…”  

Accessible Housing Report from ABCB

Timeline for the next steps to the Regulatory Impact Statement.Last year the Australian Building Codes Board released an Options Paper on Accessible Housing for comment. They have collated the information from the 179 submissions and produced a report. The 121 page report does not have recommendations about accessible housing. Rather, it leaves this to governments. The document identifies factors to shape the next stage of the project, the Regulation Impact Statement. The Executive Summary lists some of the key issues raised in the submissions:

 There is a need to consider aligning the project objectives to the concepts of equity and independence, and consideration of the principles of universal design.
 Previous government commitments, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and the COAG National Disability Strategy, were generally interpreted as commitments to regulate accessible housing.
 The prevalence of households with an occupant with a disability and the future impact of the population ageing need to be properly taken into account in establishing the need for regulation of accessible housing.
 Consideration should be given to the application of accessible housing provisions on difficult sites, where local planning policies may also impact upon the feasibility of an access standard applied to housing.
 Consideration should be given to residential tenancies legislation that may be restricting some groups from obtaining suitable housing or modifying rental housing to improve its accessibility.
 The importance of a step-free path to the dwelling entry door, and conversely, the practical difficulties associated with mandating such a feature in 100 per cent of circumstances. 
 Whether or not features that are more difficult to retrofit — generally referred to as ‘structural features’ — should be prioritised in the design of possible NCC changes.
 Qualitative, or intangible, benefits should be identified and given due consideration in the RIS, as well as ensuring that it goes beyond consideration of people with a disability. Generally, stakeholders suggested that such benefits include reduced social isolation, and increased community participation and inclusion.
 It is important that costs are accurately quantified and the distribution of costs and regulatory burdens between industry and consumers is clearly identified.
 Although outside the scope of the NCC, non-regulatory options — including financial incentives and the further development and promotion of voluntary guidelines — should still be assessed against regulatory options and considered by governments.

While submissions are not public, references to various submissions are included within the document, including ours (CUDA), and the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design. The next steps for the project are provided in an infographic shown above.